Since early babyhood, my oldest child Jane has been a creature of dramatic emotion. From the start, my default reaction has been exasperation, a tendency to shut her down at any cost, and a general lack of empathy. I am self-aware enough to know that these reactions are motivated by fear. The strong emotions evoked frighten me, and I just want them to go away. Honestly, there’s a little bit of that stereotypical “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” dynamic too. I am not exactly an even-tempered lady myself.
I have always striven to improve my parenting skills, and my discovery of the compassionate and sage advice on The Power of Moms has been a huge help to me. I feel supported by a large community trying to do what I want to do: parent with heart. I have worked over the years from many different angles on this stumbling block in my relationship with my eldest, and I think a piece of advice I’ve heard over the years finally sank in: hug her tight.
I cannot overstate how much success I have had with this approach, hugging the dickens out of Jane when she is out of control. When I do this hug, I wrap both of my arms around her tight–not uncomfortably so, but so that she is enveloped in my arms. Sometimes, when she is flailing around a little more than I’m comfortable with and I’m leery of getting clocked in the jaw, I hug her from behind.
In every single case, it is a matter of only a few seconds before I feel the tension leave her body and feel the hug returned. And then we just stay like that for a while. Finally we are in a place where talking is possible and problem-solving can start.
This is all very well, but there is a rather significant obstacle in the way of success: THE VERY LAST THING I want to do is hug Jane at those moments. All my buttons are being pushed, unpleasant emotions are in abundance, and I myself become agitated by her agitation. It is not too much to say I actually dislike her in those moments. I want her to go away. I want it to stop!
The Opposite Reaction
It takes nothing short of a “leap of love” to cross the divide between us and make contact. In that moment, when I let go of my reactivity and let empathy take over, love happens. Active, useful, healing love.
That is motherhood at its best: giving our children the gift of understanding when it is least “deserved,” but most desperately needed. It’s that equal but opposite reaction that they need from us, as the bigger people. It’s something I’d like to do a whole lot more as I continue to grow into my role as Mother.
QUESTION: What is your sticking point? What is the trigger in your own relationship with your child(ren) that evokes the strongest negative response in you?
CHALLENGE: Devise a way to defeat that reaction by imagining its opposite. Challenge yourself to leap across the divide!
I have a daughter with a very similar personality, and I am petty stubborn myself! I know exactly how you feel ‘in the moment’ and my stubborn side can hardly comprehend giving a hug when she is acting that way, but I have been learning a lot about conditional versus unconditional love and this may just be another step I need to take to show her that i really do love her unconditionally and that my love for her is not based in her behavior. It is a really fine line between showing love to them while still acknowledging that I do not love the behavior. Thanks for the great article!
Missy Cochran says
Thank you so much! I think you’re exactly right that this is one of the toughest challenges in demonstrating unconditional love, but that is ceratinly what we want to give!